Letters From Lawmakers Asking For Information From Private Schools And Pregnancy Centers That Are Under Illegal Threat

Letters From Lawmakers Asking For Information From Private Schools And Pregnancy Centers That Are Under Illegal Threat

RALEIGH — At least 15 private schools and an unknown number of pregnancy centers were sent letters this month asking for information. The letters also threatened to charge those organizations with misdemeanors if they did not obey.

The letters were written and sent by Sens. Michael Garrett (D-Guilford) and Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford).

Garrett wrote letters to at least fifteen private schools that got money from the Opportunity Scholarship. He copied on his letters Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), Sydney Batch (D-Wake), and DeAndrea Salvador (D-Mecklenburg). All of them were from the same party.

Robinson wrote emails to pregnancy centers that are part of the N.C. Pregnancy Care Fellowship and could get money from the state. In her letters, she also included Blue, Batch, and Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg).

There are parts of both sets of letters that are almost the same, especially the language used to threaten criminal charges. The letters come with a list of questions, some of which might be seen as intrusive or like a fishing expedition. For example, the questions ask about operating details, financial information, student data, and clinic methods and services.

Paul “Skip” Stam, an attorney and former state legislator who works with a number of schools and pregnancy centers, wrote Garrett and Robinson notes that were very angry and said similar things.

In the letter, Stam told Garrett that he told his clients not to do what Garrett asked and gave several reasons for this.

“The first and most important reason is that no single member of the Commission can demand anything from anyone, before or after the changes to the law in 2023,” Stam wrote. “I want to make it clear that the Joint Commission does not have the power to answer many, if not most, of the requests for information.”

“Finally, you might want to think again about your threat of criminal charges for those who don’t respond.” That would be illegal for a lawyer to do in a demand letter to a client. It’s kind of like being immune as a Senator. I don’t like it. If every member of the Commission can make this demand, then every other member could make the same demand of any other organization that gets state money, whether it’s directly or indirectly.

As a member of the Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Garrett and Robinson both used N.C. General Statute 120-75.1(6) to explain why they were allowed to ask for that information. The commission “shall have the following powers” as a whole, but not as an individual member of the commission. This is made clear in the same set of laws.

Sen. Phil Berger (R-Eden) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) are in charge of the group. Robinson, Garrett, and 36 other people are members.

Garrett and Robinson were asked for their thoughts, but we haven’t heard back from them yet.

“North Carolina law says that the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, not a single member, can send a request for information,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of NC Values. “This letter goes against state laws, is an abuse of power, and is clearly meant to scare these nonprofits that only help pregnant women in trouble.”

The group said it was getting messages from pregnancy care centers that got a “weird and invasive questionnaire from a public official.” These are places that offer help and support to women who want to carry their pregnancies to term instead of having an abortion.

As part of their effort to spread false information, pro-abortion lawmakers in the General Assembly have been trying to intimidate pregnancy care centers. Now they are taking things even further by using unethical authoritarian methods, Fitzgerald said.

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